I walked into Otis Taylor’s set looking for one man playing an acoustic guitar, and was greeted by a fully amplified six-piece band, including the radiantly energetic Anne Harris: the smoking’ hot fiddle player who nearly stole the show with her gyrations. (Let’s just say male audience members were not focused entirely on the music.) Instead of playing his familiar solo acoustic stylings from the studio, Taylor played a unique electrified style that boasted Hendrix-esque energy while staying true to his rootsy aesthetic by employing his old-school finger styling technique.
Taylor generously passed the spotlight on to everyone in his band. He brought Indigenous’ guitarist Mato Nanji as a special guest, who proceeded to shred the guitar for the whole set. During a most original take on the blues standard “Hey Joe,” rhythm guitarist Tony Scott stepped into the spotlight and played what may have been the best guitar solo of the night. Scott, who had been relegated to the back of the stage for most of the night, stepped forward and gave a face-melting performance that proved even the rhythm guitarist in Taylor’s band was among the best around.
The rootsy Americana side of Taylor’s set was fully explored when Harris fiddled her way through “Amazing Grace,” which drew Taylor’s polished harmonica response. Then they both stepped back and gave the rhythm section a moment to shine.
Although the bassist and drummer were allotted plenty of time to strut their stuff, the band abstained from excessive soloing (which can be a pitfall for bands that jam as hard as this one).
A big finish featured Taylor dropping his laid back attitude and doing a Pete Townshend-style windmill on the guitar while strumming his final chords. All things considered, Otis Taylor’s distinctive, roots-oriented style of blues has been my highlight of the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival so far.